“Maple Sap Tap” at Gelato Fiasco in Brunswick and Portland, Maine.Photo Credit : Greta Rybus
From late February through early April—the calendar’s sweet spot, that brief and precious spell when daytime temperatures sneak up into the 40s but nights snap cold again—the sugar-maple sap starts percolating and New England’s spring gold rush is on. One of our region’s true treasures, maple syrup is as complex and subtly variable as fine wine. Sugarhouse tours and pancake breakfasts are ample enticements for most fans, but if you’re an obsessed maple lover, add one (or more) of these best New England maple experiences to your “sap bucket” list.
College friends Joshua Davis and Bruno Tropeano were roommates in Rome, Maine, when they hatched a plan to craft their swirly-soft ice cream the Italian way—with premium local milk and ingredients. Since launching Gelato Fiasco in 2007, Tropeano has masterminded more than 1,500 flavors. Sugaring-season favorite “Maple Sap Tap”—a “riff on classic maple–walnut,” inspired by Davis’s childhood memories of Maine Maple Sunday—is made in small batches with syrup from Skowhegan’s Strawberry Hill Farms and homemade toffee. Brunswick & Portland, Maine.
A 25-mile bike trek along slushy rural byways? “People love it—it makes for a really epic ride,” says former professional cyclist Peter Vollers, owner of Vermont Overland, which promotes the state’s publicly accessible backroads. During Vermont Maple Open House Weekend, join 300 cyclists for Vollers’s third annual Maple Adventure Ride. The course leads to a different sugarhouse each year, and the maple snacks awaiting participants keep everyone pedaling. Worst case? The sag wagon will retrieve you, and you can still enjoy local beer and maple bourbon at the after-party. Woodstock, Vermont.
In a region with myriad maple producers, how can a small operation that’s not on the way to anywhere attract crowds? You build the ultimate “green” restaurant—out of straw bales and mud plaster. Like its syrup—boiled into being with care and pride inside a tiny, circa-1900 sugar shack—the Strawbale Café at western Massachusetts’ Hanging Mountain Farm is a labor of love for the Aloisi family. Breakfast—including pancakes, French toast, and maple–oatmeal bread in addition to eggs, sausage, home-fries, and more—is served Friday through Sunday year-round, with an abbreviated menu during the busy sugaring season. Westhampton, Massachusetts.
Bill Olson can show you his ancestor Uriah Case’s license to distill, issued in 1797. Still, it took Bill and his wife, Lynne—sixth-generation stewards of the land—years to hit upon the agricultural product that’s now putting Connecticut’s Hickory Ledges Farm on the map: moonshine. On Sunday afternoons, grab a stool by the woodstove in the tasting room and enjoy complimentary samples. Chances are you’ll want to take home a mason jar of smooth, not-too-sweet “Full Moonshine/Pete’s Maple 80”: 80-proof corn liquor laced with local maple syrup. “Bill and I make every single bottle by hand,” Lynne says. Canton, Connecticut.
“We serve only pure maple syrup in the dining room,” says Mary Ellen Shields, who owns New Hampshire’s Manor on Golden Pond—a country B&B overlooking Squam Lake—with her husband, Brian. So, when the inn’s spa added a “Maple Moments” treatment to its year-round offerings, the same supplier—Homestead Maple in nearby Campton—was tapped to provide the key ingredient. A mixture of botanical mud infused with the beloved pancake topping, “it really helps to detoxify the skin,” Shields notes, and the comforting aroma lingers long after you shower it away. Holderness, New Hampshire.
What’s on your list of the best New England Maple experiences? Let us know!